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Making friends

Learning how to make friends is one of the most important things your child will do. If your child learns early how to get on well with others he or she will get off to a better start at school and be happy.

It’s never too soon to start, especially if yours is an only child. Even babies and small children like other children’s company, although at first they play alongside each other rather than with each other.

Ask your health visitor if there’s a new parents group meeting in your area. Getting together with other parents can be good for you too (see Loneliness).

As your child starts to crawl and walk you could try a parent and toddler group or a ‘one o’clock club’. These can be great for energetic children from 18 months to three years old, and give you a bit of relaxation and company.

Ask other mothers or your health visitor about groups in your area. Or look on the clinic notice board, or in the newsagent’s or toy shop windows. Your local library may also have information, and may itself run story sessions for pre-school children.

To begin with, your baby or toddler will want you, or another trusted adult, nearby for safety. By the time your child is three, he or she will be ready to spend time without a parent or childminder to run to.

Playgroups, nursery schools or nursery classes all have a lot to offer – more organised play of different kinds, the chance to be with other children and make friends, probably space to run around in.

Find out what’s available in your area well in advance as there may be waiting lists. It may be worth putting your child’s name down on several lists.


Playgroups can be found in most areas. They vary in what they offer and how they’re run.

Some are free, others charge a small fee, though the amount varies. Sometimes you’ll be able to leave your child, say for a couple of hours once or twice a week, so you can begin to get your child used to being away from you. Sometimes you’ll be asked, or might want, to stay and help. Playgroups are often run by parents themselves.

To find out about local playgroups:

  • ask your social services department (Health and Social Services Trust in Northern Ireland);
  • contact the Pre-school Learning Alliance (formerly The Pre-school Playgroups Association);
  • you could join with other parents to start a playgroup yourself – the Pre-school Learning Alliance can help.

Nursery classes and nursery schools

A nursery class is part of an infant school. A nursery school is a separate school. Not every area has nursery schools or classes and in most areas they only provide sessions of about 21/2 hours a day. A few will provide a full school day for four-year-olds. To find out what’s available ask your education department, your health visitor or other parents. Local authority nursery schools and classes are free.

Infant school

Legally children must start formal education no later than the beginning of the school term following their fifth birthday. Some schools take children earlier, but an early start isn’t necessarily better, particularly if your child hasn’t first been to a nursery class and had time to get used to being part of a large group.

Although parents are entitled to choose which school their child goes to, every school has a limit on the number of children it can take. So start looking at schools early, and check with the headteacher whether or not the school is likely to take your child. You can get a list of local schools from your education department (see your services).

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.